Rise of the Cohort, Educational and OtherwisePosted: January 9, 2009
“Cohort” is a term used in sociology and education that refers to a group of people that experience a certain set of events simultaneously as they move through time. Cohort isn’t a perfect term, but I wonder if we are coming to a point where we need a term that gets rid of the meddlesome baggage associated with a class, but preserves the idea that there’s a particular type of peer instruction that benefits from everybody being on the same lesson at the same time.
Or failing a consensus on that point — at least a term that allows us to discuss the issue, which lately I see popping up all over the place, from Philipp’s quoting John Seely Brown to talk about founding principles for P2PU type efforts:
Together, members construct and negotiate a shared meaning, bringing the group along collectively rather than individually. In the process, they became what the literary critic Stanley Fish calls a “community of interpretation” working toward a shared understanding of the matter under discussion.
To Tony Hirst looking for ways to get OCW content delivered serially:
In contrast to syndication feeds from continually or regularly updated sources, a serialised feed is an RSS feed derived from an unchanging (or “static”) body of content, such as a book, or OpenLearn course unit, for example.
The original work is partitioned (serialised) into a set of separate component parts or chunks – in the case of a book, this might correspond to separate chapters, for example. Each chunk is then published as a separate RSS item. By scheduling the release of each feed item, a book or course can be released as a part-work over a period of time, with each part delivered as a separate feed item.
To Shirky’s recent observation that struck me as so absolutely true in a known and completely mundane way : “…what you see with these user groups, whether it’s for reality TV or science fiction, is that people love the conversation around the shows.” Not that that was his main point here. But it’s true, right? We negotiate experience differently when we feel like we are all going through it for the first time. There’s less of a caste system of amateurs and old-timers. We’re bolder about our pronouncements, more democratic. The possibility for reinterpretation is more dramatic with 99 people going through a course at once than for 99 people being absorbed into a profession or discipline one at a time.
It may be good, it may be bad, but it’s there.
I’ve been thinking about how this is such a pervasive problem in all aspects of culture. TV should be dead, by rights. Ages ago. But the one thing it provides is a serialization mechanism for art, where there’s at least a chance that you could talk to somebody that has seen Episode 8 of Lost, but not Episode 9.
Netflix could solve this of course, and reinvigorate a lot of series in the process. What you would need, ala Hirst, is a serialization mechanism (and here, again, talking in terms of the original meaning of serialization, not it’s specialized computer science meaning). You and your friends sign up to watch the mid-90s series Earth 2, and it delivers you an episode a week. Or every three days. Or each night. Whatever — as long as it allows for shared reflection in between the events.
In other words, you become a cohort, moving through these series in sync so that everyone shares a similar interpretative environment. If Netflix added that, and just that, to its Watch Instantly offerings, it would would change the digital delivery of old TV shows into something entirely different. The same way P2PU would transform the face of OCW use, and the same way Tony’s experiments are pushing the delivery bar.
The “class” is dead, as is the “audience”. Long live the cohort.